Abbas to ask PM to give unity a chance

PA chairman also expected to seek expansion of cease-fire to West Bank.

olmert abbas 298ap (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert abbas 298ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will urge Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during their meeting Sunday to give the new Palestinian unity government a chance and to extend the unofficial cease-fire with the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, PA officials in Ramallah said. Meanwhile, Abbas is facing a serious revolt inside his Fatah party by representatives of the young guard who are demanding a larger say in the decision-making process. The rebellion may sabotage Fatah's efforts to name its candidates for the proposed unity government with Hamas. "President Abbas is expected to ask Olmert not to boycott the new coalition," a PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "He will also urge Olmert to agree to a cease-fire in the West Bank and will tell him that both Fatah and Hamas are keen to extend the current truce in the Gaza Strip to the West Bank." Another top official told the Post that while the Palestinians were not pinning high hopes on the Abbas-Olmert summit, they still believed that the Israeli government would not boycott the Fatah ministers in the new cabinet. "It's difficult to see how Israel would be able to boycott figures like [former Finance Minister] Salam Fayyad or [Fatah operative] Muhammad Dahlan," he said. "Israel must realize that the unity government will not be as bad as they think." According to the official, Abbas will also make it clear to Olmert that the new Hamas-led coalition will not be in charge of the peace talks with Israel. "President Abbas and the PLO are responsible for political negotiations," he explained. "The unity government will be responsible only for running the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinians." On the eve of the summit, Abbas traveled to Jordan, where he held talks with King Abdullah II on the latest developments surrounding the formation of a unity government with Hamas. Abbas appealed to Abduallah to use his good offices with the Americans to get them to accept the unity government. Fatah and Hamas agreed over the weekend to postpone the announcement of the unity government until after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to the region, scheduled for late March. Abbas is hoping to make a last effort to persuade Washington not to boycott the unity government before he strikes a final deal with Hamas. The decision to delay the formation of the unity government is also linked to escalating tensions inside Abbas's Fatah faction, which has yet to name its future ministers. Abbas, in a controversial move, decided last week to appoint two activists as "field commanders" of Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The two, Hussein al-Sheikh [West Bank] and Majed Abu Shamaleh [Gaza Strip], are closely associated with Dahlan. Their appointment has been openly challenged by dozens of Fatah operatives, who see the move as an attempt to undermine the power of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. In an unprecedented act, hundreds of disgruntled Fatah activists have filed a suit with the faction's court, demanding that Abbas cancel the "illegal" appointments of Sheikh and Abu Shamaleh. The head of the court, Rafik Natsheh, said he will call a session later this week to look into the case. Kifah Uwaiwi, one of the Fatah petitioners, described Abbas's decision as undemocratic, saying it would cause grave damage to efforts to reform Fatah in the wake of the faction's defeat in the 2006 parliamentary election. In a letter to Abbas from prison, Barghouti expressed his opposition to the policy of appointments in Fatah and called on Abbas to start preparing for internal elections. Barghouti noted that the last time such elections were held was about 15 years ago. "You must work toward convening the General Conference of Fatah as soon as possible," he said in his letter. "Holding the conference will pave the way for democracy and renewal. It will also be an opportunity for consolidating partnership between the different generations, end the state of anarchy [in Fatah] and reform our institutions."